Category Archives: Shakespeare

BLIND TO RACE, GENDER AND DISABILITY, SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE GOES A NEW WAY ·

(Matt Wolf’s article appeared in The New York Times, 5/31; via Pam Green.)

LONDON — Shakespeare’s Globe may have had a spring cleaning, but don’t for a second think that the deservedly popular playhouse is playing it safe.

You could be forgiven for expecting a conservative, back-to-basics approach following the controversial artistic tenure of Emma Rice, who parted company with the theater in 2017 after only two years. But if “As You Like It” and “Hamlet,” the opening productions by the new artistic director, Michelle Terry, are any gauge, the Globe looks poised to continue provoking — albeit in new ways. Already, Ms. Terry’s tenure promises to throw norms to the wind by casting without regard to gender, race or ethnicity. Eyebrows have been raised, but there has been hefty applause as well.

Ms. Rice had ruffled feathers by modernizing a space that Globe hard-liners defend fiercely. They took issue with her use of amplification, contemporary lighting rigs and a pop aesthetic that introduced Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” for instance, into her Bollywood-inflected “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Her “Twelfth Night” included the London drag artist Le Gateau Chocolat as a disco diva Feste.

No less provocative was Ms. Rice’s candid admission that she found Shakespeare difficult — a sentiment she expressed in her first news conference as artistic director and in various interviews.

Ms. Terry, by contrast, has spoken from the outset of an apprenticeship to Shakespeare that began when she was a child. And because she, unlike Ms. Rice, is an actress — and an Olivier Award-winning one at that — she comes to her current position steeped in the playwright’s work. The result is that you feel at every turn a direct engagement with a dramatist whom Ms. Rice, by contrast, sometimes seemed at odds with, as if the verse were an irritation to be overcome.

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Photo: Virgin Experience Days

 

WAR OF THE ROSES: MARGARET OF ANJOU ·

Margaret of Anjou

Listen

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most remarkable queens of the Middle Ages who took control when her husband, Henry VI, was incapable. Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482) wanted Henry to stay in power for the sake of their son, the heir to the throne, and her refusal to back down led to the great dynastic struggle of the Wars of the Roses.

The image above is from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, showing John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, presenting Margaret with that book on her betrothal to Henry

With

Katherine Lewis

James Ross

and

Joanna Laynesmith

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

‘TWELFTH NIGHT’ AT THE POLONSKY SHAKESPEARE CENTER–FROM THE ACTING CO. AND DELAWARE’S RESIDENT ENSEMBLE PLAYERS (REP) (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Maria Aitken takes the edge off overwrought Summer Shakespeare with a droll, whimsical Twelfth Night from the Acting Co. in a co-production with Delaware’s Resident Ensemble Players (REP), now playing until May 27, at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn (an essential theatrical destination, which seems to transfigure for each new presentation).  Her light surrealism sets Illyria in the Thirties, maybe in California, probably not on the Adriatic and far away from traditional England or Trump’s America. What matters to her is the hair, the wigs (which go uncredited):  bouffants, bobs, punk dreadlocks, pageboys, coiffures piled high and on the verge of Versailles.  The costume designer, Candice Donnelly, provides veils, tams, netting and curlers, party hats, berets, and kerchiefs; variegated livery, period golf wear, ruffles at the neck, asymmetrical gowns, and old-fashioned black swimsuits–she even makes an allowance for nothing at all.  Some might surmise that to dwell on costumes is another way of saying that there isn’t much going for the show, but here, Shakespeare is what happens when the audience is looking the other way. 

The play has been called the finest of the bard’s comedies, and Aitken’s may be one director who can actually prove that, by insisting on lucidity–she does not clutter her stage, for example, for all her satirical idiosyncrasies, and the design, by Lee Savage, is white and clear, a little beat up, maybe a deck on a ship or the villa of a Hollywood star, a mystical swirl of eternity at the apex.  The backdrop, virtually a map, is as vivid and impersonal as the screensaver of a Dell computer.  As Viola, the page searching for her lost brother after a shipwreck, Susanna Stahlmann reminds of a young Isabella Rossellini—she’s giving a classic portrait, placing a knee up on a bench to intimidate or intimate virility or putting hands on hips to imitate manliness.  At the other extreme is Michael Gotch, as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, a role typically seen as secondary—however, in this Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole incarnation, he is the one through which the audience realizes it can laugh.  Gotch is thin and inventive, always in the moment, on, maybe like a Robin Williams.  Aitken and her cast are looking at what’s really comic in a Shakespeare comedy, such a Sir Tobey Belch (Lee E. Ernst) line: “She’s a beagle,” insulting and whacked out at the same time. 

The simplicity of the textual structure is allowed to be contemplated, without unnecessary stress from too much music, ham acting, and societal comment.  The director’s specific detail in scene work, one including a fake pheasant, for instance, highlights the lunacy. By the end of the evening, she will have brought in the kazoos and ukuleles, even guns and terrorists; the cold white scenic design, sometimes like reflective tiles, with bright lighting, by Philip S. Rosenberg, can project fissures of red and blue.  Shakespearean comedy is not often seen so unconventionally, with secrets of the interpretation, known only to the auteur, kept intact, yet a love of absurd eccentricity and lyricism on the verge of slapstick are apparent; very dry, of course.  Elizabeth Heflin, as Olivia, seems Californian, an American with a pioneering spirit–a self-assured woman who might roll the dice for love in the city of angels or star in a silent-era two-reeler.  Stephen Pelinski may be the one Malvolio who has found a way to recite his speeches without eliciting impatience.  Others in the cast are also actors to take note of, if they are not known to readers already: Kate Forbes, John Skelley, Michael Stewart Allen, Hassan El-Amin, Mathew Greer, Mic Matarrese, Antoinette Robinson, Joshua David Robinson, and Mickey Theis.  They add credence to the idea that the best way to enjoy Shakespeare is to not think about him . . . or Donald Trump . . .  or the number 1 train on weekends . . . or the rain.

Copyright © 2018 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.   

Photos: The New York Times; University of Delaware.  All rights reserved.      

Twelfth Night

Directed by Maria Aitken 

Visit The Polonsky Shakespeare Center:

262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn, NY, 11217

 

About The Acting Company

Founded in 1972 by John Houseman and Margot Harley, The Acting Company (Ian Belknap, Artistic Director; Elisa Spencer-Kaplan, Executive Director) is “the major touring classical theater in the United States” (The New York Times) and the only professional repertory company dedicated to the development of classical actors. The Company has reached 4 million people in 48 states and 10 foreign countries with its productions and education programs, and has helped to launch the careers of some 400 actors, including Kevin Kline, Patti LuPone, Rainn Wilson, Jesse L. Martin, Keith David, Frances Conroy, David Ogden Stiers, Harriet Harris, David Schramm, Jeffrey Wright and Hamish Linklater. Over a dozen commissioned new works and adaptations include plays by Lynn Nottage, Tony Kushner, John Guare, David Mamet, Beth Henley, Rebecca Gilman, Maria Irene Fornes, William Finn, Ntozake Shange, and more. The Company received a special Tony Honor for Excellence in Theater in 2003 for its contributions to the American theater.

About Resident Ensemble Players

The Resident Ensemble Players (REP) is a professional theatre company located at the University of Delaware, headed by Producing Artistic Director Sanford (Sandy) Robbins. The REP offers frequent productions of outstanding classic, modern and contemporary plays performed in a wide variety of styles that celebrate and demonstrate the range and breadth of its resident acting company.  The REP is committed to create future audiences for live theatre by offering its productions at low prices that enable and encourage the attendance of everyone in the region, regardless of income.

Press: Sam Parrott, Blake Zidell & Associates

SHAKESPEARE UNLIMITED: ASTOR PLACE RIOT ·

(from the Folger Shakespeare Library; via Pam Green.)

May 10 is the anniversary of the Astor Place Riot: the night in 1849 when fans of American actor Edwin Forrest rioted inside and outside New York’s Astor Place Opera House during a performance by Forrest’s rival, the British actor William Charles Macready. Nearly 30 people were killed.

Our guests on this podcast episode are Heather Nathans, Chair of the Department of Drama and Dance at Tufts University in Boston, and Karl Kippola, Associate Professor in the Department of Performing Arts at American University in Washington. They were interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

Listen on iTunesGoogle PlaySoundCloud, or NPR One.

From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast series. Published May 1, 2018. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, His Headstrong Riot Hath No Curb, was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster and Esther Ferington. Esther French is the web producer.

We had production help from Ian Fox and Alex Braunstein at the PRX Podcast Garage in Boston and Andrew Feliciano and Evan Marquardt at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California.

INSIDE AN ARGENTINE TRANSLATION OF ‘HAMLET’ PAIRED WITH SURREALIST ILLUSTRATIONS ·

(Marianne Hewitt’s article appeared in Shakespeare and Beyound, 4/27; via Pam Green.)

The poet and critic Rafael Squirru (1925-2016) and the artist Juan Carlos Liberti (1930-) collaborated to create Argentine translations of Shakespeare’s plays, illustrated with captivating surrealist images.

The Folger’s vaults contain a copy of the duo’s Hamlet (1976)signed and donated by Squirru himself. This Argentine translation updates Luis Astrana-Marin’s Spanish translation of the play, published in Madrid in 1949. Squirru adapts the text specifically to suit ‘the Latin American ear’, as he writes in the introduction, since the Spanish spoken in Spain and the Spanish of Argentina are distinct in accent, vocabulary, and rhythm.

Juan Carlos Liberti’s paintings include colorful scenes of tango dancers and musicians in Buenos Aires, as well as surrealist Shakespearean illustrations. The following illustration is included in the front matter of Hamlet:

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Photo: Folger Shakespeare Library

SIR BEN KINGSLEY, EARLE HYMAN, LIEV SCHREIBER, JAMES EARL JONES, STACY KEACH, ESTELLE PARSONS, AND OTHERS TALK ABOUT SHAKESPEARE ·

(from the Folger Shakespeare Library; via Pam Green.)

How Shakespeare Changed My Life

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 95

Hear Sir Ben Kingsley, Earle Hyman, Liev Schreiber, James Earl Jones, Stacy Keach, Estelle Parsons, and others open up about their experiences with Shakespeare’s plays. Actor/director Melinda Hall interviewed these actors (and others), as well as writers, directors, linguists, and even a Holocaust survivor for her web-video series How Shakespeare Changed My Life. On this podcast episode, Melinda talks about the origin of the series, what she’s learned from it, and where it’s headed. She is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

SHAKESPEARE UNLIMITED: DENNIS MCCARTHY AND JUNE SCHLUETER ON THE GEORGE NORTH MANUSCRIPT ·

(via Pam Green)

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 93

Scholars Dennis McCarthy and June Schlueter say they have discovered a major new source for Shakespeare’s Richard III, Henry V, Henry VI, Part II, and at least eight other plays. The scholarly world continues to investigate and debate these new claims, which, if proved true, would be a once-in-a-generation find.

On this podcast episode, McCarthy and Schlueter discuss how they used plagiarism-detecting software to analyze a nearly-450-year-old unpublished manuscript called A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels by a man named George North, finding multiple instances of matches with passages in Shakespeare plays. 

McCarthy is an independent scholar, and Schlueter is the Charles A. Dana Professor Emerita of English at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. They are co-authors of the first published edition of A Brief Discourse of Rebellion & Rebels by George North, published by Boydell & Brewer in 2018. They were interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

Visit the Folger Shakespeare Library

From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast series. Published March 20, 2018. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, Put Your Discourse into Some Frame, was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster and Esther Ferington. Esther French is the web producer. We had technical help from Virginia Prescott of New Hampshire Public Radio, Andrew Feliciano at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California, and Neil Hever at WDIY public radio in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

CAESAR BLOODY CAESAR ·

Richard Johnson as Cassius, John Gielgud as Julius Caesar, and Jason Robards as Brutus in Stuart Burge’s film Julius Caesar, 1970

(Josephine Quinn’s article appeared in The New York Review of Books, 3/22.)

The Landmark Julius Caesar: The Complete Works: Gallic War, Civil War, Alexandrian War, African War, and Spanish War

edited and translated from the Latin by Kurt A. Raaflaub

Pantheon, 793 pp., $50.00

Richard Johnson as Cassius, John Gielgud as Julius Caesar, and Jason Robards as Brutus in Stuart Burge’s film Julius Caesar, 1970

When Julius Caesar was thirty-one years old in 69 BCE, so the story goes, and serving as a junior Roman magistrate in Spain, he once stood lamenting before a statue of Alexander the Great because he had achieved so little at an age by which Alexander had already conquered the world.

He had good reason for concern. Although his recent election as a quaestor—one of the officials responsible for finances—had given him a lifetime seat in the Senate, Roman politics were more of a funnel than a ladder: twenty quaestors who had been elected at thirty years old could compete nine years later for eight praetorships, and then, three years after that, for just two annual consulships. To rise, you needed political friends, name recognition, and, in order to buy elections, a great deal of money.

Caesar was already admired as an orator, but he was best known for his debts, and he was good at making enemies, especially among the powerful conservatives in the Senate. Furthermore, while he had ably fulfilled the standard military duties of a young Roman nobleman, he had attracted attention only for his first assignment overseas at the age of about twenty: a trip to Bithynia in northern Anatolia, where he had become friendly—many said extremely friendly—with its king, Nicomedes. Whether or not the rumors were true, this was the first hint of a lifelong tendency to test the bounds of Rome’s unwritten moral and legal codes.

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DEREK JACOBI ON PLAYING HAMLET ·

(Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 91; via Pam Green)

Renowned actor Derek Jacobi talks about the Shakespearean role for which he is best known, Hamlet. Beginning at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1957, Jacobi has acted this role on stage nearly 400 times, and as you can imagine, he’s devoted hours to thinking about Hamlet’s words, Hamlet’s motivations, and the best way to play the role. Derek Jacobi was interviewed by Barbara Bogaev. 

This is the first of a two-part interview. In part two, Derek Jacobi talks about his career more broadly, including sharing the stage with Laurence Olivier, performing King Lear in 2010, and a struggle with paralyzing stage fright that drove him away from the theater for two years in the 1980s.

 

 

PLAGIARISM SOFTWARE PINS DOWN NEW SOURCE FOR SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS ·

(Alison Flood’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/9.)

Plagiarism software more commonly used to check student essays for overly assiduous borrowings has uncovered a long-forgotten, handwritten document from 1576 as the possible source for more than 20 monologues and passages from Shakespeare’s plays.

Independent scholar Dennis McCarthy and LaFayette College professor June Schlueter used WCopyfind software to compare passages from Shakespeare’s plays with George North’s 1576 unpublished manuscript, A Brief Discourse of Rebellion, about the dangers of rebelling against a king. They were able to trace more than 20 passages back to the essay, including Gloucester’s opening soliloquy in Richard III, Macbeth’s comparison of dog breeds to different classes of men, the Fool’s Merlin prophecy in King Lear, and the events surrounding Jack Cade’s fatal fight with Alexander Iden in Henry VI.

“Until now, no Shakespeare scholar has studied the manuscript, and it has probably remained little read. Yet, as our analysis has revealed, Discourse is not merely the only uniquely existent, evidently uncopied document to have had a substantial impact on the canon; it is one of the most influential Shakespearean source texts in any form,” they write in a new book, A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels by George North, which is published on 16 February by Boydell & Brewer, in collaboration with the British Library. “In terms of the number of plays, scenes and passages affected, the scope of the manuscript’s influence likely exceeds all other known Shakespearean sources, excepting only the Chronicles of Hall and Holinshed and Thomas North’s Plutarch’s Lives.”

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